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Copyright Basics: Home

Library Research Specialist and Copyright Education Consultant

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Dena Callicoat Laton
Marshall University
Drinko Library 226
One John Marshall Drive
Huntington, WV

About Copyright Resources

Copyright and other intellectual property issues can be complex. None of the information or links provided should be substituted for the advice of an attorney

Fair Use Check List

Fair Use Checklist

Copyright Basics

What is copyright?

In the United States, the idea for Copyright was embedded in the U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Section 8, which describes the powers of Congress. 

"Congress shall have Power...To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries"

According to U.S. Copyright Law, copyright protects works of original authorship that are fixed in a tangible expression. This includes broad categories of literary works, musical works, dramatic works, visual (pictorial, graphic, and sculptural) works, pantomime and choreographical works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architectural works. Copyright takes effect immediately once a work has been fixed in a tangible form - registration is not necessary - and lasts for 70 years after the death of the author, or, in the case of works for hire or anonymous/pseudonymous works, 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Copyright gives the author the following exclusive rights:

  • to reproduce the work
  • to prepare Derivative Works based on the work
  • to distribute the work
  • to publicly perform the work
  • to publicly display the work
These rights can be transferred from the author in whole or in parts, but exclusive rights can only be transferred in writing and signed by the copyright holder.

What is NOT protected by copyright?

  • works that are not fixed in a tangible form (for example, an improvised performance that is not recorded)
  • names, titles, short phrases, slogans, mere listings of ingredients or contents, familiar symbols or designs, mere variations of typography, coloring or lettering
  • ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
  • works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)
  • works produced by the U.S. Government

Fair Use

Fair use allows users of copyrighted works the right to exercise without permission some of the rights normally reserved for copyright owners. This concept is used as a defense in a court of law. Determining what might be considered a fair use in court can be an uncertain process, but these tools can assist you in assessing your use of a copyrighted work.

When evaluating whether a use is fair, four factors are taken into consideration:

  1. The purpose and character of a use
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

No one factor is decisive - all four factors must be met.

Additionally, under factor 1, whether or not the use is transformative has become an important consideration for Fair Use evaluations. Here are three questions to ask yourself to help determine whether your use is transformative (from the Framework for Copyright Analysis tab):

  1. Does the copyrighted material help me make my new point?
  2. Will it help my readers or viewers get my point?
  3. Have I used no more than is needed to make my point? (Is it “just right”?)

Here are a few resources that go into Fair Use in more detail:

Essentials of Copyright Web Sites

  • Copyright | American Library Association